WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Every time the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins scored in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday, the Syracuse Crunch had an answer.
The Penguins gained a lead in each of the first two periods, only to see the Crunch come back both times and eventually win it 4-2 with a pair of unanswered third period goals. The Crunch now lead the series 3-1 with Game 5 tonight in Syracuse. The Penguins will attempt a second consecutive series comeback after they erased a 3-0 lead by the Providence Bruins in the conference semifinals.
“Like the last series, we have to take it one game at a time,” winger Chris Collins said. “We have the character in the room to do it and we were in a worst spot last series than we are now. If any group of guys is going to do it, it’s the group in this room.”
For much of the first two periods, it looked like the Penguins were on their way toward leveling the series.
Defenseman Scott Harrington, who was playing in his first AHL game, got the Penguins started during a first period power play. He collected the puck in the high slot and shot through traffic in front to beat Crunch goaltender Cedrick Desjardins for a 1-0 lead at 13:40.
Harrington said he wasn’t sure the goal was his after it changed direction in front.
“I figured one of the forwards tipped it,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to put up points and was fortunate the shot went off one of their D. It was nice to contribute.”
But the Crunch answered quickly — a pattern that would hamper the Penguins all night — with a goal by Brendan Mikkelson from the point less than two minutes later.
The Penguins had a golden opportunity to retake the lead in the first minute of the second period when Paul Thompson’s wrist shot got through Desjardins but rolled just wide of the net. They did capitalize late in the period thanks to some hard work by Warren Peters, who skated the puck into the offensive zone while being mauled by two Syracuse defenders.
Peters held onto the puck long enough to hit Jayson Megna streaking down the slot alone. Megna skated in on Desjardins and beat him with a backhander under the crossbar to make it 2-1.
But the lead was short-lived again as the Crunch forward Brett Connolly deflected a Mark Barberio wrist shot past Brad Thiessen a minute-and-a-half later to send it into the third period tied 2-2.
“It is frustrating,” said center Zach Sill of the Crunch’s ability to answer each of the first two goals. “You want to keep that momentum and go with it. With them being able to answer so quickly, it took a little bit of wind out of our sails.”
Head coach John Hynes said it wasn’t so much the play of Syracuse that resulted in the pair of game-tying goals, but the failure of his team to prevent the Crunch from getting back into things.
“It was really on our part,” Hynes said. “Tonight, we beat ourselves in those areas. There were some mistakes we made a shift, a couple shifts after a goal and they tied it pretty quick.”
Syracuse reversed the trend of playing catch-up and took the lead less than two minutes into the third period. Crunch winger Ondrej Palat skated around the back of the net for an apparent wrap-around attempt, pulling Thiessen out of the crease in the process. As Palat skated around the net, he dished a pass out front to Tyler Johnson who buried a shot to give Syracuse a 3-2 lead.
The Penguins received an opportunity with three minutes left when Crunch forward J.T. Wyman was sent off for tripping. Thiessen was pulled for the last half of the power play, giving the Penguins a two-man advantage, but it was Syracuse that gained the advantage just as the power play expired.
Joey Mormina held the puck in the neutral zone as Wyman exited the penalty box behind him, lifted his stick and promptly sent the puck down ice into the empty net to make it 4-2.
Hynes said the Penguins’ inability to take advantage of the power play opportunity was a key to the loss.
“It’s tough this time of year to come from behind because the other team plays so committed,” Hynes said. “We did have a couple opportunities, particularly at the end when we had the power play, but we didn’t get anything out of that. That was the difference in the third period.”
Now the Penguins face the Crunch tonight in Syracuse and are once again taking things game-by-game with their season on the line.
And just like when they were down 3-0 to Providence, the Penguins aren’t counting themselves out.
“You’re never out of it in the playoffs,” Sill said. “It takes seven games, hopefully.”
• Hynes sat D Alex Grant on Friday in favor of Harrington. With Olli Maatta and Harrington both in the lineup, the Penguins had two rookies on defense. Harrington was playing his first AHL game while it was Maatta’s second.
• C Jayson Megna returned to the lineup after missing the first three games of the series.
• G Scott Darling, D Dylan Reese (injury), D Cody Wild, C Chris Barton, D Reid McNeill, RW, C Phil Dupuis (injury), D Alex Grant, D Derrick Pouliot, LW Bobby Farnham, LW Steve MacIntyre, D Harrison Ruopp, RW Matia Marcantuoni and LW Anton Zlobin were scratched for the Penguins.
Syracuse 4 Penguins 2
Syracuse 1 1 2 — 4
Penguins 1 1 0 — 2
Scoring – 1. WBS, Scott Harrington 1 (Gibbons, Holzapfel) power play 13:40. 2. SYR, Brendan Mikkelson 2 (Taormina, Palat) 14:57. Penalties – SYR, Desjardins (delay of game) 7:24; WBS, Thompson (tripping) 7:24; WBS, Gibbons (holding) 7:54; SYR, Johnson (holding) 10:05; SYR, Gudas (interference) 12:18; SYR, Paradis (high-sticking) 16:46.
Scoring – 3. WBS, Jayson Megna 2 (Peters, Uher) 16:40. 4. SYR, Brett Connolly 3 (Barberio, Sexton) 18:12. Penalties – WBS, Collins (tripping) 1:25; SYR, Paradis (roughing) 5:15; WBS, Gibbons (cross-checking) 5:39; WBS, Merth (hooking) 9:59; SYR, Sexton (slashing) 12:08.
Scoring – 5. SYR, Tyler Johnson 9 (Palat, Namestnikov) 1:50. 6. SYR, J.T. Wyman 3 unasssisted, empty net 19:04. Penalties – SYR, Wyman (tripping) 17:01.
Shots on goal
Syracuse – 7-7-10-24
Penguins – 4-10-9-23
Syracuse – 0 of 4
Penguins – 1 of 6
Syracuse – Cedrick Desjardins 10-1 (21 saves – 23 shots)
Penguins – Brad Thiessen 6-4 (20-23)
Syracuse – G Cedrick Desjardins, D Jean-Philippe Cote, D Mark Barberio, LW J.T. Wyman, C Mike Angelidis, RW J.T. Brown
Penguins – G Brad Thiessen, D Philip Samuelsson, D Olli Maatta, LW Riley Holzapfel, C Trevor Smith, RW Adam Payerl
1. SYR, Ondrej Palat (two assists) 2. SYR, Tyler Johnson (goal) 3. WBS, Jayson Megna (goal)
Referee – Jean Hebert, Darcy Burchell. Linesmen – Kiel Murchison, Tom George
Attendance – 5,197